An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2018

Revolution in Higher Education: Identity & Cultural Beliefs Inspire Tribal Colleges & Universities

Cheryl Crazy Bull and Justin Guillory
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The public increasingly requires that higher education institutions demonstrate their return on investment by measuring graduation rates, cost per student, job placement rates, and income. The motivation is economic: public institutions are accountable to the investor, in this case, the taxpayer. Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), on the other hand, are indebted to and inspired by the revolutionary vision of their founders: the ancestors, elders, and community members who believed that higher education rooted in tribal sovereignty, identity, systems, and beliefs would ensure the survival and prosperity of their people. TCUs are advancing Native student access and completion, developing scholars who are contributing to knowledge creation through community-based research, and promoting economic and entrepreneurial development in tribal communities.

CHERYL CRAZY BULL (Sicangu Lakota) is President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund. She previously served as President of Northwest Indian College and has extensive experience in tribal K–12 and higher education as well as community development. She has published articles in such journals as Tribal College: Journal of American Indian Higher Education as well as contributed to books focused on leadership, minority serving institutions, and tribal colleges.

JUSTIN GUILLORY (Nez Perce descendent) is President of Northwest Indian College. He previously served as Dean of Extended Campuses and Dean of Academics and Distance Learning at Northwest Indian College. He has published essays in such collections as Understanding Minority-Serving Institutions (2008).

The tribal college movement began with prayer and ceremony, according to the late Gerald One Feather (Oglala Lakota), a founder of the tribal college movement. The founders considered the history of American Indian education, which was guided by the problematic goal of assimilation and the rejection of being Indian, and understood that their efforts required strength and guidance from the Creator, as perceived by each tribal nation. The founders of the Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) movement also understood that for Native people to survive and preserve what it means to be Indigenous, they had to assert control over the very educational systems and schools designed for assimilation. The tribal college movement was, and still is, about Native people taking control of their own lives.

In this essay, we outline three important aspects of the TCU movement. First, we offer a brief origin story of the concept of TCUs. Second, we highlight .  .  .